Is Seasonal Affective Disorder stopping you achieving your goals this winter?
As I sit in front of the fire writing this blog it’s raining outside, and the warmer, longer days of spring feel some way off. This can lead us to suffer from seasonal affective disorder or SAD at this time of year. You might be feeling more tired, losing interest in daily activities and have a generally low mood. While this seasonal or winter depression as it is sometimes known is not fully understood there are a few things that you can do that will help.
It is hypothesized that a lack of sunlight through the winter months could lead to this condition. We absorb Vitamin D through the skin and over the winter months this can become increasingly more difficult. Many of us will hibernate in our homes and offices when the weather is bad and when we do venture out we are wrapped up warm limiting the exposed skin that can absorb vitamin D.
Vitamin D plays an important role in bone and teeth health as well as helping boost energy levels. Now while we can absorb vitamin D in our diet from foods like oily fish, eggs and fortified foods like cereals, this is not enough for most people over the winter months (October – early March). This is because we are absorbing less through the skin and because the body’s ability to extract Vitamin D from the foods we eat is not very efficient.
In the UK, sunlight doesn’t contain enough UVB radiation in winter (October to early March) for our skin to be able to make vitamin D. During these months, we rely on getting our vitamin D from food sources (including fortified foods) and supplements. Using sunbeds is not a recommended way of making vitamin D. -NHS
Current daily recommendations for Vitamin D are 10ug for Men and Women. For reference 85g of sardines contain 6.5ug, half a pint of whole milk contains roughly 4ug and an egg contains around 1.5ug. – (BTN: Nutrition, health & Weight Management Vol 1 2017).
This is one of the few areas that supplementation has been more widely accepted in the correct circumstances. I have linked a useful NHS article on this here: https://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Summerhealth/Pages/vitamin-D-sunlight.aspx
This means that if you are suffering from SAD then you could take a few positive steps like adjusting your diet and walking in the sunlight each day to help boost your mood.
Being stuck inside and low on Vitamin D is certainly one possible link to seasonal affective disorder (SAD) but this does not automatically mean that taking a supplement is the only answer. Activity, exercise, and fresh air are of huge benefit to reigniting your motivation and blowing away the winter cobwebs.
Physical activity and exercise are responsible for stimulating the release of serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. These chemicals play an important part in regulating your mood and how your body sends and receives messages. This is why you always feel good after exercise or a nice long walk.
My advice is to start small and build up. It’s always better to train more frequently and consistently than it is to train once a week for a longer duration. For example, training 5-6 times per week for 20-30 minutes will not only burn more calories but it will also give you a more frequent hit of serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine that boost your mood.
The great thing about being more active this time of year is that if you include plenty of daily walking and outdoor jogging, where possible it will help top up your Vitamin D at the same time, plus you can’t beat good old fashion fresh air and a little bit of real-world interaction to make you feel better.
You might have big goals for the year ahead and the feelings of Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) might make you feel like they are slipping away from you. If this is the case then focus on what you can do right now, get walking, plan in some shorter manageable exercise sessions and try to include more of the foods that contain Vitamin D (mentioned above). Work on these things for now and as the spring kicks into gear in a few weeks’ time, the days will get longer and your mood will lift and flourish with the new season. Make sure your ready to step it up and work on your bigger goals by focusing on what you can do right now to move you forward.